Sunbelt Expo show goes on despite threat of welcome rain
Rainy weather threatened to wash out opening day of the 42nd Annual Sunbelt Expo on Oct. 15, but as it turned out, it didn’t rain on the show’s antique tractor parade or the day’s festivities. Attendees had raincoats and umbrellas handy, but they were only needed for a brief period of time early Tuesday.
No one complained about the threat of rain as Georgia farmers need rain to quench drought conditions covering the state. Weather for the last two days of Expo were excellent. The damp conditions probably helped convince farmers to leave their fields to head to Expo and talk to some of the more than 1,200 exhibitors displaying farm equipment and supplies.
Most of the Expo field demonstrations had to be put on hold Tuesday and Wednesday due to wet field conditions but were in full swing by Thursday with the exception of peanuts.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, members of the Georgia Grown team and Sunbelt Expo staff cut the ribbon for the Georgia Grown Marketplace housed in Expo’s Family Living Center. More than 30 exhibitors who market their Georgia-made products under the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown brand, had booths selling everything from jellies to bedsheets made with Georgia cotton.
“What you are celebrating here today is that a lot of people had a dream. They’ve been making products that people have been telling them they ought to sell, and they followed that dream,” said Commissioner Black. “The Georgia Grown brand is about people being willing to dream and the partnerships between the UGA College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences’s Flavor of Georgia Contest and our department to highlight and market these businesses.”
The Georgia Grown Marketplace included a cooking stage that hosted twice-daily cooking demos. First Lady Marty Kemp and Georgia Grown Executive Chef Holly Chute kicked the day off by showing breakfast doesn't have to be boring as they cooked Kale, Apple, Bacon & Egg White Breakfast Burritos. The recipe featured Georgia Grown or made products with kale from Baker Farms, bacon from Carroll’s Sausage, Jaemor Farms’ apples, Bootlikker Hot Sauce and tortillas made by Ole Mexican Foods, a Georgia-based company.
Marty Kemp has made promoting the Georgia Grown program and Georgia ag products her primary platform as Georgia’s first lady.
Expo also gained a new partner for its Sustainable Living Center, which highlights proper management of small farms and backyard gardens. Flint River Fresh, which is supported by the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District (FRSWCD), used the center to highlight the work it’s doing to teach residents of urban areas who live in food deserts how to grow their own food.
Representatives of Expo, Flint River Fresh, the Georgia Natural Resources Conservation Service and FRSWCD participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the new partnership. Flint River Fresh Executive Director Fredando Jackson, known as “Farmer Fredo,” and other program representatives were on hand throughout Expo to discuss the non-profit organization's mission to teach residents how to grow food. Over the three-day event, gardening experts delivered seminars on various types of irrigation systems for gardens, using two-wheel, walk behind tractors in small plots and soil testing.
North Carolina displayed the best of its farms from the Mountains to the Sea and the diversity of its agriculture as the 2019 Expo Spotlight State. North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten welcomed Expo attendees to the ribbon cutting for the state exhibit saying agriculture is North Carolina’s top industry and contributes $98.1 billion to the state's economy.
North Carolina utilized virtual reality glasses and high-def TV screens to help Expo visitors experience beekeeping, raising pigs and growing row crops, including tobacco. Howling Cow ice cream made at NC State University was a big draw.
Gov. Brian Kemp spoke at the Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year lunch saying,
“Agriculture is the fabric of our state. It’s what keeps our economy diverse and makes our state a great state to raise our families.”
In reference to all of the farmers at the lunch and show, Kemp said, “You are the heart and soul of our state and the Southeast United States. You are why we’re able to feed and clothe the world.”
Rep. Robert Dickey, a peach, pecan and timber farmer from Crawford County, represented Georgia in the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Contest. Michael McDowell, who raises registered Angus cattle and forages on a 1,200-acre farm in Virginia won the 30th Annual Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award. In addition to farming, McDowell is also a full-time pastor.
“I think farmers are closer to God than any other profession. We’ve come to realize God is in control. We’ve come to realize there will be rain after drought and spring after winter,” McDowell said while accepting the award.
While speaking at the Expo Farmer of the Year Lunch, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue praised farmers for the role they play in national security.
“It’s a blessing to not have to be dependent on another country for food. We went through a period of time when we were dependent on other countries for our fuel,” said Perdue. It’s because of all the farmers from the ten Southeastern states represented here today who clothe and feed us that we aren’t dependent on other countries for our food. Food security is truly a national security issue.”
Perdue also said he sees better days ahead for farmers as signup for disaster assistance for natural disasters that have occurred in recent years is underway through the Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. The USDA is also working with state departments of agriculture to get block grant money to states to help farmers who experience loss to storms, Perdue said.
For the first time in Expo history, all of the contestants in the show’s annual Milking Contest were women. Staff from the ag schools at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and the Universities of Auburn, Florida and Georgia competed against each other for bragging rights.
Georgia had two contestants in the Expo Milking Contest – UGA’s Assistant Professor Jillian Bohlen, who teaches in the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences’ Animal & Dairy Science Department and Allison Miller, a lecturer of animal science at ABAC’s School of Agriculture & Natural Resources.
First place went to Florida Regional Extension Coordinator Colleen Larson who milked 1,020 milliliters. UGA’s Bohlen captured second place by milking 560 milliliters. Smitherman, senior manager of human resources at Auburn’s College of Agriculture, took third place with 480 milliliters while ABAC’s Miller was right behind her with 460 milliliters for fourth place.